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Illinois introduces legislation to ban five food additives

Illinois takes decisive action with the introduction of the Illinois Food Safety Act (SB2637), aiming to ban five commonly used food additives and initiate studies on additional potentially harmful chemicals, mirroring efforts in New York and California.

January 25, 2024

4 Min Read
food safety

At a Glance

  • The new bill proposes the ban of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben, Red No. 3 and titanium dioxide.
  • The legislation is motivated by potential health risks associated with these additives, including links to cancer.
  • While focusing on five initial additives, the bill also calls for studies on BHA and BHT.

Editor's note: This article was updated Jan. 26 to reflect an official statement from National Confectioners Association (NCA).

Illinois is the latest state to take action against certain food additives. The Illinois Food Safety Act (SB2637) seeks to ban five commonly used food additives. The move by the Illinois legislature mirrors a proposed ban in New York and California of five ingredients: brominated vegetable oil (BVO), potassium bromate, propyl paraben, Red No. 3 and titanium dioxide. California dropped titanium dioxide in the final bill, which was passed. The New York bill hasn’t advanced since it was referred to the agricultural committee last April.

The Illinois bill goes a step further than California’s or New York’s bill. According to Sen. Willie Preston, who introduced the bill, an amendment to SB2637 will also call for studies on the potential health risk of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).

FDA is currently reviewing petitions to revoke the use of titanium dioxide and Red No. 3 in food. The agency is also proposing deauthorizing the use of BVO after scientific studies found the potential for adverse health effects in humans.

“I applaud the FDA for taking some measures to responsibly look at these food additives,” Preston said in an interview. “The question that I think is on the top of the average Illinoisian’s mind is, ‘Should we wait when we know that these food additives are dangerous?’ We know we’re not guessing. We know that the science tells us that the food additives are dangerous and linked to serious health risks. Should we move and act right now? I believe most Illinoisans will say ‘yes.’ I think they’ll probably put a ‘hell yes’ in front of that.”

Red No. 3 is a particular point of contention. Preston emphasized that FDA prohibits the color for use in cosmetics. “It stands to reason that if it was dangerous enough to be banned in 1990 because the study conducted ingested Red No. 3 through food into rats, which led to the rats catching cancer, it would make sense for us to prohibit it in the food supply for human consumption,” he explained. “Unfortunately, the FDA hasn’t. They didn’t take that action. It’s incumbent upon us as lawmakers to take that action here in Illinois. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

At the same time, Preston made clear that the legislature is not seeking to harm any businesses. “I am actively engaged with manufacturers and other folks in the industry,” he said. “My goal in this legislation is to have an agreed-upon bill. If that happens, that will be great. It will show that not only are lawmakers stepping up and acting responsibly, but it also will show a lot of goodwill from the business community that they too recognize the truth. And that is that the health of Illinoisans is paramount to anything else.”

The senator also stressed that the legislature is not looking at any more additives at this time.

Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias supports the legislation. He “oversees the state’s organ donation registry and stressed the importance of healthy organs for individuals suffering from life-threatening diseases or injuries who need transplants,” according to a Jan. 23 press release.

Other supporters of the bill include Kevin Lee, president and CEO of Mid-America Transplant, and Marion L. Shuck, EVP of governmental and external affairs at Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network. Environmental Working Group (EWG) also supports the new bill, as the nonprofit has in previous legislation concerning food additives- and food safety-related topics.

Frank Yiannas, former deputy commissioner of FDA, stated that without a strong, science-driven federal agency, “our country is left with a state-by-state patchwork of different, emerging regulatory standards that would weaken our nation’s food system and food safety efforts.” He has also been outspoken about consumers’ lack of trust.

Update from NCA: “This bill would replace a uniform national food safety system with a patchwork of inconsistent state requirements created by legislative fiat that will increase food costs, undermine consumer confidence and create confusion around food safety," Christopher Gindlesperger, SVP of public affairs and communications at NCA, said. "We should be relying on the scientific rigor of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives.”

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